Renovation of a guitar lute

I rarely take pictures of regular renovations, but this one was unusual. It is a German lute guitar from about the mid-1920s. Then it was time for imaginatively shaped and carved guitars in the old style that probably suited well for the troubadours and music of the time.

This one had a round mandolin bottom, a renaissance band on the lid, a bar fret and a scalloped board as well as a violin-like carved head with loose tuning screws. And not least an ornamented sound hole cut directly in the spruce of the lid. It was unplayable with about 5 mm string height, a lid that was not completely flat with two solid cracks behind the stable and a stable that was well on its way to being torn by the nylon strings. The stable had also been re-glued and the area around the stable had been beaten. A challenge!

Since there was no sound hole to work through and no bottom to pick off, there was only one thing to do. To remove the lid. The lid had a wide decorative strip all around, at the bottom a 1 mm wide white celluloid strip followed by a 1 mm wide rosewood strip and an outer 2 mm wide white celluloid strip. It turned out that the thickness of the strips (which had been milled in after the lid had been glued in place) was almost as thick as the spruce lid itself. It was possible to loosen the two white celluloid strips with a razor blade and a slashing knife, but the rosewood strip in the middle had to be scrapped.

With the lid off, I could see that the ship itself was solid, I did not need to repair anything in the body itself. The lid, on the other hand, needed new ribs and a stable plate that it lacked. The cracks were glued together first of all. After some thought, I realized that it was best to glue the binding around the lid and not wait after the lid was glued in place. With the strips in place, it will be easy to fit the lid against the rim. This is something I have not done before and I had to come up with a solution.

What I did was glue the three strips in rounds, the roswood strip had to be 1,5 mm to make the shrunken lid wider. To protect the varnish on the lid, I first taped on a thin low-adhesive plastic tape on top of the lid. This tape comes off very easily when heated with a heat gun and not even the most sensitive varnish comes with it. I was then able to attach tape on top of the low-adhesive to be able to tighten properly and glue the strips without damaging the paint. The lid got a bunch of pieces of tape around, the lid was then turned over and placed on a plate. The moldings were glued with a waterproof universal glue. To ensure that the strips came down to a level with the lid on top, clamps and braces with soft rubber were then used all around.

The innermost white celluloid strip is glued.

The rosewood strip is glued in two passes.

Finally, glue the outermost celluloid strip.

It turned out that the neck continued in a pin into the neck block. To straighten the neck, the pin was loosened from glue and a wedge was inserted under it to force the neck to a better position with a smaller angle to the lid. It went well even if you could see a small crack on the other side where the neck was attached to the bottom. The lid got three new ladder bracing ribs in the same place as the originals, but I also added an A-frame around the sound hole and a patented stable plate in spruce to make the lid stronger.

The stable was extremely incorrectly designed, it was less than 2 mm thick around the string pin holes! The front and thicker part with a trench for a stable leg was bent. Making a replica would have been a lot of work as it was carved like everything else on the guitar, instead I glued on a 3 mm thick rosewood plate under the stable. In addition, I extended the stable on the front with another piece of rosewood that was glued with hot skin glue to the plate and the front of the original stable. Stewmac's practical fixing screws made it easy to glue the stable in the right place. The area around the stable was cleared of dirt and "Karlsson's glue", but there was still permanent damage from previous repairs.

The next problem was to glue the lid to a round bottom, no force could be used as usual. After some thought and testing, it became a jig with the help of tape and a strap. In the same way as before, the varnish was protected with low-adhesive tape, while double stronger tapes were used to fasten the lid, which was glued with fish glue. The bowl also needed to be pressed together lengthwise, but it went well with the strap. The 1 mm wider lid with the help of the wider rosewood strip fit well.

The heat gun and "razor blade" in plastic made it easy to loosen all the tape. The thin yellow low-adhesive tape does not adhere at all when heated properly.

But that was not the end of the problems with the round bottom and the lack of sound holes. Another jig had to be invented when the ditch for the stable leg was to be milled. Here, too, I used tape and a strap to hold the milling jig.

 

At the bottom of the milled ditch, wormholes appeared that were filled with rosewood dust and super glue. Only now did I discover that the string hole for the b string was very misplaced! When I stringed up with solid string sticks, I sawed the notch for the string as close to the hole of the G-string as I could. It worked.

I was a bit lucky with the neck angle and I got a whole lot of stable legs left to adjust with the right string height. The intonation was tricky as only the 9 straps in the neck could be trusted, the straps that sat on the lid were lower than those in the neck. The neck was banded with rectangular bar frets and the fretboard scalloped between the bands. The neck was straight, bare frets make the neck very stiff and they work as well or better than a drawbar. An old technology that works.

The whole guitar was given a coat of alcohol varnish, the varnish on the lid was also given a little color to dampen the damage around the stable. The tuning screws were cleaned and lubricated and nylon strings were strung on. After vibrating for three days, it sounds really good, but I will never like the round bottom. The guitar is slippery as a soap!

GG176, European parlor ca 1910

The last in the previous batch has been ready for a long time and has already been delivered. I have lagged behind with the report, but better late than never.

The guitar, which was a European parlor from around 1910, was in good condition and without major cracks. Nice maple at the bottom and side, the neck was also in black painted maple. The bottom was in one piece. Rosewood in the fretboard. The only major flaw was a large crack in the head that was half loose at the attachment to the neck. It had hung unplayable for many years on a wall with too high a string height.

One reason for the relatively good condition was a previous renovation in 1983, I have a bit of a hard time reading what is on the label. The renovation had been done with the right glue and varnish, possibly it had been cleaned on the original varnish but clearly got a couple of turns of new spirit varnish. The tuners seemed to be in good condition, but it turned out that the tuning screw for the G string toothed over, so they were replaced with new ones. The bridge was narrow and not really a pyramid bridge, and almost evenly thick over the entire length.

The guitar was disassembled without any problems. The customer wanted ebony in a fretboard with a 16 ″ radius instead of the flat original board. I also made a new pyramid bridge in ebony that was made a little wider than the original to make room for an intoned saddle.

The top had a good thickness, but the bottom was thicker than it needed to be. To sand it down to just under 3 mm, I had to sacrifice the repair label. Although the bottom had a cupped shape, it could sand it down in my vacuum jig after moistening the bottom on the inside, so it was flat against the jig.

All braces in the top and bottom were replaced. For some reason, I did not take pictures at work with braces and gluing, but it got the usual bracing in the top and bottom and I also mounted a K&K mic. What I have is a picture of it with everything glued together, and before I made the last adjustment and painting.

It was a while since I worked with ebony, and I had suppressed how difficult it is to mount frets compared to a fingerboard in rosewood. When I sand the fretboard for a small relief, I usually have the frets loosely mounted to get the right stiffness with tensioned strings. With ebony, you always get small splinters from the small "diamonds" on the fret's tang that come loose no matter how careful you are to loosen them. The grooves in the fingerboard must also not be too shallow as ebony is so much harder than rosewood and the frets cannot be forced into place as with rosewood. Splinters can always be fixed with ebony dust and superglue, but it takes time and is difficult! To avoid all that extra work in the future, I have now made "frets" in the form of small plastic sticks with the right thickness and radius to fill in the grooves instead of the real frets. The plastic "frets" can be loosened without problems, even on an ebony board.

Again I missed a bit in the neck set and got a too high saddle. This meant that I had to loosen all the frets once more, with more splinters, to sand the fretboard thinner at the end. No major problem as the fretboard was about 6 mm thick and about 1 mm needed to be sanded down. Everything went well in the end.

I have also changed tactics with the neck set after this and now I aim for the extension of the fretboard WITHOUT frets to end up on top of the stable. Then I gain 1 mm extra height on the saddle, which otherwise would have been a little too low. Some saddle height will disappear when I sand the relief in the fretboard and when the neck settles in. It is much better that the saddle is 1 mm too high than too low, as it was on this one, it can be fixed without regluing the neck. It remains to be seen if it is the right way to go, to hit the right height of the saddle is clearly the most difficult moment, perhaps the only thing that you can not control completely no matter how careful you are.

The guitar got a transparent pick guard and pearl inlays from the old fretboard mounted. The crack in the head was glued with hot hide glue, and a birch rod was drilled in also glued to make the crack stable. The repair was hidden under the fine black spirit varnish that hides all repairs :-)

The end result was good and that is the most important thing. With a segmented saddle, plugs, nut intonation and a thinned bottom, it sounded very good. The adjustments of the intonation was greatest at the nut and the saddle could be made thinner than usual. The customer picked it up in the shop and was overjoyed, I myself was also happy with the result.

I took pictures on a sunny autumn day with a lot of yellow leaves on the tree, so the color became yellower than in reality. But I also took pictures of it in the case before it was delivered, which are more truthful.

Incidentally, the case is one Ortega Cl. Guitar Case 3/4 OCCSTD-34 which is available for purchase at Thomann. That case fits well with a small, short and curvy European parlor, but is a little too deep for most as it is made for small nylon string guitars with a wider rim. You can always put a spacer in the form of a folded towel under the guitar (as in the pictures) to make it lie flat in the case. Gator GWE-Acou-3/4 the case is longer and lower and fits perfectly with the slightly longer Levin parlor guitars. When it comes to quality, Ortegan is probably a bit better, but also a little more expensive.

GG177, European parlor ca 1900

The last two in the batch are now ready. I plan to spend the next week on various repairs, but also start up a new batch to cut the queue of GammelGura guitars in waiting.

The first of the two was a slightly special and different parlor from the waiting room. The condition of it was not the best, the area at the bottom of the body was in poor condition and about 20 cm of the "Herringbone" decoration around the top was missing. The guitar had probably gotten a real bang at the bottom. The guitar had a very beautiful carved decoration in the sound hole and the open string length was unusually short, about 61,5 cm. The fretboard was also unusually wide at the nut and the fretboard was flat. The neck was not excessively thick and had a soft C shape. The head had an unusually large angle to the neck, similar to a Gibson. The tuning screws were of the older and more stable type and looked to be in good condition. Later it turned out that one of the screws toothed over just as the string approached the right tuning, so they were replaced by new ones. The whole guitar had a beautiful brown color and patina.

Top in spruce, bottom, side, neck and bridge in maple. Fretboard in rosewood.

  • Total length: 94 cm
  • Top (upper round, waist, lower round): 23 - 18 - 29 cm
  • Side (neck block, waist, end block): 7,7 - 8,3 - 8,6 cm
  • Neck: C-shape
  • Fingerboard (upper saddle, 12th, cc string pins at bridge): 48 - 54 - 56 mm
  • String length: 61,5 cm
  • Paint: Spirit varnish
  • Weight: 1269 g

The craftsmanship of the entire guitar was, so to speak, "organic". Well put together, but also carelessly built in places. Among other things, the head is mounted a little obliquely towards the neck. The best craftsmanship was in the sound hole decoration which was unusually beautiful! The body shape itself was also unusual and not as curvy as European parlor guitars usually are.

Disassembling it was quick as half the work was almost done… I had a bit of a hard time deciding if it was old or if it was a “revival” parlor from the 1920s. There was a period in the 1920s when new European parlor guitars were built in imaginative shapes and flirted with old construction details. But after going through it from the inside out, it is probably old and from about 1900 or older, especially the placement of the brace behind the bridge is an old solution that did not work well and which was later phased out. The adjustable saddle was most likely a later addition when the guitar was repaired and when screws were pulled into both the bridge and the foot of the neck.

The bottom was a bit too thick and needed to be thinned down. Here I used my new vacuum jig to hold the bottom under the drum sander for the first time. Since the bottom was curved in both directions, I did not get it fixed in the suction table to begin with, but by soaking the bottom on the inside, the wood swelled, and the bottom flattened out. Worked very well!

The most time consuming repair was the area at the bottom. Pieces of the top and the decorative strip were missing there. I could cut spruce out of an old top. Since I do not have a herringbone decoration strip that matches the original, I used some strips in rosewood instead. The lists still look good and become a visible part of the history of the guitar.

The customer wanted both the bridge and fingerboard in ebony. A new mustache bridge was made and the fretboard was given a 16 ″ radius, I skimmed off 1 mm on the width at the nut to make it a little narrower and easier to play. The guitar was chosen by the customer because it had a wide fretboard, but it was a bit too wide. I tested bridge plates with wings in this batch that went across the whole top, it turned out to be little or no difference in sound on any of the guitars in the batch, so I will return to the usual construction. I had to glue a couple of cleats in the top as well. Both the end- and the bottom block were a bit weak and received a piece of 4 mm birch plywood as reinforcement. The kerfing needed to be supplemented with a few pieces. A K&K mic was mounted.

I had to think a little about the sound hole decoration, in one piece of maple, that has been glued in place. My experience is that they are never good for the sound, but this one was extra beautiful. So, I used mounting pads in four places in the hope that it would not affect the tone negatively.

The bottom was glued, the neck was fretted, and the bands were crowned in my jigs. The holes in the head for the old tuning screws were plugged and drilled again for a pair of modern tuning screws. Buttons at the ends of the mustache tips were also made. The measurement for a nut intonation was then done with the help of my new analog stoboscope tuner, a nut and a segmented saddle was manufactured.

I was careful not to get a lot of sanding dust in the guitar, but then I realized that I did not glue in my GammelGura label! After some thought, I realized that two pieces of the outer circle of the decoration could be sawn off opposite each other and the decoration could be pryed out through the sound hole. Then it became very easy to clean the inside! The label was glued in, and the decoration could be pressed on again with new mounting pads from the inside towards the top with the help of two simple "fishing hooks" which I made of 4 mm silver steel.

After staining and coloring the new pieces on the top, the guitar was painted on with a thin layer of spirit varnish.

I tested the guitar both with and without decoration and thought there was not much difference in sound. But the acoustics in the shop are lousy, I took it home and tested it in better acoustics and came to the conclusion that it sounded a little more jarring with the decoration. The customer can decide for him selves whether it should be with the best look or sound, I send him both the mounting pads and my "fishing hooks".

Without decoration, it sounds very good with even volume on the strings and all the positives that comes from the segmented saddle and plugs. The extra large sound hole (perhaps deliberately larger because the decoration covers a large part of the opening) gives a slightly less audible bottom than normal for a similar GammelGura. Instead, you get more midrange. It is quite popular nowadays to make sound holes larger for that reason.

Here are some pictures of the finished guitar with the decoration mounted, it looks good even without it 🙂

Analogous stroboscope

Nut intonation is not the most fun thing I know, but it is necessary. I have long looked at a genuine analog stroboscope tuner without the delay to collect data when plucking a string that is present in all digital variants. When doing a nut intonation, you probably tune +100 times and that delay becomes annoying. I took the plunge and invested in a real lump of an analog stroboscope tuner. It was not cheap. An approximately 3 kg heavy piece in 1970s design.

The very first tuner, Stroboconn, was introduced in 1936 and manufactured for 40 years by Conn. Peterson came up with the first semiconductor model in 1967. The one I bought is a smarter variant with the same analog rotating disk with a stroboscope lamp behind. An advantage with an analog stroboscope is that it basically never needs to be calibrated, it will always show the correct pitch.

I did not know how it was to use one, there are both positives and negatives. It is a bit more accurate than its digital twin, but also more difficult to read. There was also a short delay when the engine revs up to the right speed for the tuning of the string in Auto mode, but not as slow as with the digital one. It has a noise too, but not as disturbing and not as loud as I feared. What bothered me, however, was that the light from the stroboscope. It was flickering like a disco ball when it had no signal in! I solved this with a small blindfold in black plastic that I can fold down when in stand-by. I also made the window a little smaller with a tape around the edge to avoid looking straight into the stroboscope lamp at a certain angle.

I could also see that my old digital StroboPlus is almost as accurate as the analog one and has a more stable screen. I can recommend this one to the common man, the analog tuner is probably only good for people like me. It can be said that digital technology is well on its way to replacing the analogue one. The analog one does not replace my digital, but will be used every time I do the nut intonation. Just the fact that it weighs 3 kg means that I do not have to worry about not pulling it down from the table with the guitar cord!

Repairs

Since I had a difficult summer with pollen and asthma, I have not been diligent with my blog. But it has worked during the days without problems, for some reason I have not felt the pollen in the shop. Now it feels better, as it always does when autumn and winter replace the flowering greenery.

Although nothing has happened on the blog, I have been diligent, though not as efficient as usual. When I cleaned the room and repainted the floor, a lot of repairs appeared that was, if not forgotten, so at least undone. This is not good. I think that about 10 guitars of different kinds have been fixed and left the shop during the summer. The problem is that there is more to do. Right now I am finishing the last two GammelGura in the current batch and when they are finished I will do some more repairs before I start the next batch.

Three of the repairs were a little more special than the others. The repair that basically became a complete GammelGura, and which was more laborious than a regular GammelGura, was a full-size Scottish Moon guitar from the 1990s. It is a rather unusual guitar that was popular with many English artists in the 1980s and 1990s. It is slightly better than you the guitars you usually see from that time period, with only solid woods and some unusual details. It was lightly built, and the top had sunk in around the sound hole. The mission was to make it as good as possible. Of course, it was X-braced and had a truss rod, the bridge had a two-part saddle and the ebony fretboard and cover plate on the head was made in one piece of ebony. Walnut in the bottom and sides. The mahogany neck was extremely thin, it was the highest fashion at the time and was well suited for electric guitarists who are used to narrow necks.

I took it on because I was curious about how my inventions would work on a full-size dreadnough. I was prepared for an extra lot of problems as it was glued with modern glue. I was right.

The neck attachment was not the best, as the truss rod was adjusted through the sound hole, both the top brace and the neck block were weakened by the milling for the rod. That construction was probably partly the reason why the top was sinking in at the sound hole. The braces were a little too weak to hold in the long run as well, usually the braces are too strong. Thicknesses on the side, top and bottom were good.

To loosen the bottom, I had to scrap the wooden strip around the bottom. Wood is nice, but a wooden strip glued with modern glue can not be saved. I milled away the strip, it was later replaced with a birch strip with the same color and structure as the original. The bottom was braced with what looks like mahogany, I reglued some braces that was a bit loose, but the originals were left.

The top was cleaned from braces and I made a slightly stronger X-bracing with an A-frame around the sound hole. I got help from Per Marklund to dimension the braces, I chose not to use scalloped ribs. I had never understood why you do that, but now I know it is done to weaken the surface around the bridge and give more bass. Next time I will test that variant. The bridge plate was made of spruce, and it got plugs. End wood birch under the E-string and end wood in spruce for the other strings. Buttons in hard bubinga around the stringpin holes were mounted as usual.

The original bridge was planed down and it was replaced with a new piece of rosewood with the old bridge as a template. It received the standard nut intonation and a segmented saddle.

Everything went as planned, the bottom and the new birch binding were glued and scrapped. I only painted the new wooden binding with plastic lacquer and not the whole guitar. The neck had too much of a relief, when I was going to adjust the truss rod, it turned out that it was broken! The owner had bought it used and had never tried to adjust it…

So. The only thing to do was to loosen the fretboard and the neck (again). Not so easy to do when the modern glue under the board was very hard to break. It was inevitable that some wood fibers on the edge of the neck stuck on the fretboard. After the fretboard was glued back with hot hide glue, I had to work with tough superglue and plastic lacquer to fill in the cracks along the edge. The truss rod was epoxy glued and could not be removed. Luckily, everything except the bar itself was made of aluminum. After getting the rod loose, I used a cutter to mill off the rest of the aluminum. Here I made a mistake, when I was cleaning the channel from glue, the tip of the knife went through the neck close to the nut - I saw the light shining through the neck… It turned out that the bottom of my 1 cm deep channel was only about half a mm from the back! After a solid 1 × 1 cm carbon fiber rod was glued, I again had to work with self-drying tough superglue to fill the hole.

It was a long story, but the end result was really good. The carbon fiber rod instead of the truss rod gave a lighter guitar with a more stable neck attachment, probably also a better sounding guitar. It was quite honestly the dreadnought that I think sounded best of the ones I've tried so far. It became extremely even across the strings, with good separation and volume. In addition, a very distinct and clear sound with a solid bass. It basically sounds like an GammelGura usually does, but with extra bass. I got a receipt that my inventions also work on a modern guitar, for once I wanted to play longer than a quarter on an X-braced guitar!

A Levin archtop from, I think, 1948 would be repaired with neck reset, new frets and a simple pick guard with a mic. I'm not fond of the sound of an archtop, to me, it sounds mostly string, but with a mic it sounds better. The neck reset and fretting went as planned. The pick guard was milled out of a black plastic plate (I have some milling templates for Levin pick guards). Then came the tricky task of attaching the mic, pick guard, jack and potentiometers for tone and volume to the guitar. I glued a piece of rosewood under the end of the fingerboard to be able to screw on the mic. A stable holder for the jack was manufactured, and the soldering equipment had to be dusted off. Not the most fun I know, but necessary sometimes.

When everything was ready and after new strings and vibration, it sounded as good as one can do. Connected, everything worked as it should 🙂

The third special repair was another large Levin archtop, but with the name Kay-Tone on its head and fantastically fine maple in the bottom and sides. The local customer, who was 90 years old, left it in person - the steep stairs down to the basement were no obstacle. The guitar had been bought used and a few years old in the 1950s. The problem with it was that the bottom had swelled and instead of shrinking, the middle joint had broken, and the bottom was pressed up in the middle. Karlsson's celluloid based glue had been used to "repair". It also lacked some celluloid binding on the neck. Otherwise, fully functional.

It was heavy and sounded nothing but string. The reason why came when I opened up the bottom, I have never seen such strong braces in both the bottom and top! Grotesquely thick, I would say. The bottom was glued together with a thin rosewood strip in the middle and a glue strip on the inside over the middle joint, new and half as thick braces were mounted. The single top brace was planed down to a more appropriate thickness. The original celluloid binding could be reused when the bottom was glued back.

 

After new strings and vibration, it had both tone and sustain and not just the sound of strings. With low string height and crowned frets, I hope it will be played for many more years!

I can mention that all customers have been very satisfied and grateful with their repairs, it is one of the positive sides of a job like mine 🙂

GG178, a European parlor with a carved bridge

After many ifs and buts, I am up and running with the batch again. It took its time to tidy up the shop and build a rolling shutter for the new band saw. I have had an unusual number of distractions also with very interesting objects and an apprenticeship week. I have also worked on an article in English about my unique methods that will be published in American Luthierie, hopefully this year. It feels good to get started again!

  • Total length: 92,5 cm
  • Top (upper round, waist, lower round): 24 - 18 - 30,8 cm
  • Side (neck block, waist, end block): 7,2 - 8 - 7,7 cm
  • Neck: V-shape
  • Fingerboard (nut, 12th, bridge): 44 - 56 - 62 mm
  • String length: 62,5 cm
  • Paint: Spirit varnish
  • Weight: 1107 g

The first of the remaining objects in the batch to be completed is number 178, a small old European parlor in rather deplorable condition. It was complete, but with lots of cracks in the top, bottom and sides. At some point, it has been renovated, cracks have been repaired with carpentry glue and provided with an impressive carved "monster bridge" in maple or birch, similar to those made by KB. I think it is old and from the end of the 1800th century, the size, fretboard in the same plane as the top of the head, the tuners and the bracing of the top indicate it.

That the bridge has been replaced can be seen in the double rows of string holes in the top, it originally had a mustache bridge. Of course, such a large bridge is not good for the sound, but without it the top would look awful and it would lose all its charm. It must be kept. The matching and equally charming tuners were fully functional and could be retained. The fretboard, which was thin and flat, was replaced with a new and thicker rosewood one that was given a 16 ″ radius. I found a plank that fit well in both color and texture against the bridge.

It is not visible in the pictures, but the lid was sunk probably 1 cm in front of the bridge. The reason for this was the completely incorrect placement of the lower brace, below the bridge instead of in front. For some reason, they did so on early parlor guitars. Probably when tops began to sink in from the rotation, they switched to placing the brace in front of the bridge. Both sideshad really long cracks, both repaired with carpentry glue. The glue was cleaned off and the cracks were glued with hot skin hide glue and got a reinforcement of 0.6 mm maple veneer with the grain across the crack on the inside.

The bottom, which was thin and in a piece of wood, had a solid diagonal crack.

The rop was only about 2 mm thick with several cracks. Either the top was thin already at the time of manufacture, or the top had been thinned out during the previous renovation. To make the top stronger, I glued on a diamond-shaped about 1 mm thick spruce plate, with the grain in the same direction as the top, under the bridge on the top inside before I glued the new bracing. The bridge plate was given a narrow extension to the side in an attempt to improve it. It turned out that this change did not give a noticeably better sound in any of the objects I made in the batch (not worse either!). In the future, I will probably return to the simpler form I used before this batch.

The bottom and side had a special and contrasting vein painting. The one who made it was skilled, but did not make it subtle! The solid V-shaped neck was unusually not completely painted black.

Some pictures after the disassembly. A piece of the bottom came loose at the end block, to loosen the thin bottom without damaging it more, I sawed off the top of the neck block.

To loosen the carpentry glue, the glue was soaked with water-soaked paper strips.

 

Here I'm gluing the maple veneer over the second of the long cracks in the sides. A fitting piece had already been glued on top of the neck block.

The bridge was in a piece of maple or birch, but it had cracked in some places. The pieces were glued together with hot hide glue.

The diamond-shaped reinforcement and the new braces and cleats were glued in my go-bar with a radius plate as an abutment that matches the curvature of the braces at 30 ″.

The customer wanted a K&K pickup fitted, which is easy when the bottom is off. As the bottom was thin, it had not shrunk much in width despite the long crack. I was able to glue the cracks together and still make the bottom fit well against the sides when gluing the bottom. To make the bottom fit, the sides is pressed in a few mm on both sides at the narrowest point. The circumference of the sides decreases and the bottom can fit perfectly on the rest of the sides. Excess bottom in the narrowest place can be easily scrapped off with a sharp knife when the bottom is glued.

I had problems with the neck gluing and had to redo it once to get the right angle to the saddle. The sharp V-shape of the pin in the dove-tail attachment made it difficult to control the angle. As always with old parlor guitars made for gut strings, the neck angle was far too steep, I probably had to file away 3 mm on the tip of the neck foot. The bridge was evenly high and not lower on the treble side, so I planed down the top on the treble side a couple of mm and matched the color with stain and a little lamp black (which mimics dirt).

The frets were mounted, and the guitar was measured for nut intonation. My nice little jig for intonation of the saddle also worked on this bridge. There was plenty of room for an intoned saddle.

Since the bridge was not planed down when I measured it, I used my old method to find the intonation point with the back of a thin drill (my jig will be at least about 2,2 mm high).

A very thin zero nut (a ground-down old ebony nut) was super-glued to a tape to guide the strings sideways during the measurement.

A suitable segmented saddle was manufactured.

The guitar got a round of clear spirit varnish after a little staining of fresh wounds. The tuners had bushings fitted as the holes for the tuning posts were loose and worn.

After three days of vibration (which was done when the neck was glued to the body) it turned out that it actually sounded really good despite the oversized bridge! With four plugs and the two unwound strings without plugs, the volume was even on all strings. I also succeeded well both with the height of the saddle and the intonation. The original tuners also worked perfectly. I am very pleased with the result, I especially like the charming patina from the bridge, the worn vein painting and the tuners. It is old and ravaged, just as it should be.

General cleaning

After seven years, the shop has become a bit worn, so much so that it does not feel fun. My project right now is to clean and tidy up. The floor needed to be repainted with epoxy paint and all the carpentry needed some paint. Now the floor has been repainted and my plan is to do the rest of the shop as I go along. I have cleaned several parts of the room, but there are still cabinets and drawers that need to be sorted and cleaned out.

My little Proxxon band saw recently burned up all of a sudden, missed by no one. It never worked as it should. Sometimes a band saw is needed, so I bought a new one twice as big at Jula. Still a small band saw. To be able to use it without having to struggle with 32,5 kg of a band saw, I made a similar rolling shutter with cabinets as the one I made for my drum sander. It took a couple of days to do, but I am happy with both the band saw and the rolling shutter. If necessary, I roll it forward and fasten it to the bench with a pair of clamps. I took the opportunity to repaint and repair the old roller shutter for the drum sander too.

In the picture, I have cut out 75 brace blanks from some quartered spruce blanks originally intended for violin tops. When I'm done, I park the roller shutter out of the way along the wall to the right of the chair by the extinguisher.

All this takes time, but it will be much nicer to work when it is done!

Apprenticeship Week

It's been a while since I made a blog post, a lot has happened except managing to write blog posts. Among other things, a week with the apprentice Daniel when we worked with a severely beaten Levin. In addition to the assault, it was also one of the least lavish Levin I have encountered.

Daniel is basically an electric guitarist and he has built several of them himself, he is also a very good guitarist. He hoped to be an apprentice for a week to learn more about acoustic guitars. The Levin had been bought at a flea market and had an ugly brush vein-paint with modern varnish on the whole body. The fretboard had also been painted. It was hardly recognizable as a Levin, but despite the fact that it lacked both a medallion and a serial number, there was a Levin burn stamp inside the bottom. Since it lacked a rosette and had seven (!) Twigs in the bottom, side and neck, it was probably a second sorting that was cheap when it was sold. The bridge was planed down and one of the tuning screw knobs was missing. I myself would not have bought it…

The neck in birch and the missing medallion indicate about 1925 as the year.

When we took it apart, there was a problem with the bottom as it was the thinnest I have seen on a Levin, about 2 mm on one of the edges. It went well, but took twice as long. The bottom had 5 braces instead of 4 to compensate for the thin bottom, probably a factory mistake that was saved and used in this guitar.

The positive was that the neck was narrow and comfortable, the thin bottom was also a good detail.

After some discussion, we came to the conclusion that the best alternative was to blow it completely clean from the ugly modern varnish and mount a new fingerboard in rosewood. A new bridge and new tuning screws were also necessary. To preserve a small memory from the previous renovation, an inlay similar to the decorative painting on top of the head would be inlayed in using ebony.

The work rolled on, we worked all week from 8:00 to 21:00 every day. Daniel clocked 73 hours for his job. Despite the diligence, we did not have time to get the guitar completely ready, it took a day and a half of work for me for the last production of the nut, saddle and adjustment. Removing the old paint stole a lot of time, it also did the job to apply the new paint. When I myself was hard hit by pollen that week, I went at half speed, but apart from that, most things went well without major mistakes.

Daniel had a try on most of the steps, except for some steps where it was a great risk of making a mistake or that take a long time for a beginner. For example, milling the trench for the carbon fiber rod or the manufacturing of the bridge.

Part of the rim was extremely thin with several repaired cracks, a 0,6 mm veneer was glued to the inside. In the picture, the bar under the fretboard is also glued as the last bar in the top. It was given an extra large radius to avoid having to glue a wedge under the fretboard.

Here are some pictures from the gluing of the bottom. The bottom got 5 new braces, a K&K mic was mounted in the top. Of course, the top got all new braces and a bridege plate in spruce with four plugs and buttons in bubinga around the string pin holes.

Here we see Daniel working with the inlay in ebony on top of the head copied from the old painting.

The top was sanded and scraped down carefully so as not to thin down the lid too much. Some ink drawings around the sound hole had to be left, plus other defects, because we thought it looked cool. The top was lightly colored golden orange with the help of a stain made of wood shavings from bubinga that were allowed to soak for a long time in pure alcohol. The bottom was stained with brown “Carl Johan” Herdin water based stain. Several coats of spirit varnish primer and spirit varnish were applied, one coat of spirit varnish at the bottom also got a brown color to match the darker color of the neck.

When I measured the intonation, in addition to the pollen allergy, I had a bout of stomach ache. Maybe that's why I did not see that the stroboscope tuner ended up in a "sweetener" mode without me noticing. I spent half a day measuring the world's strangest intonation before I realized that the tuner showed completely wrong values! I do not want to do that again.

When the saddle and nut were in place and after three days of vibration, it turned out that even a second grade Levin with seven twigs can sound good! Since Daniel is an electric guitarist, it had to be 2,3 mm for the 12th band and thick E-string and 1,5 mm for thin e.

A few days later, Daniel came by and picked up his finished guitar. It will surely be used, it sounded good when he played on it 🙂

Coles, ca 1905

In my private collection I had an American parlor made with the finest rosewood. The story begins with a purchase of a guitar project on eBay by a customer who wanted to make an GammelGura on it. When it came from the USA, it turned out that the neck was extremely wide, about 49 mm at the nut, and did not suit the customer who wanted a narrower neck. I ended up redeeming it and another guitar with a narrow neck was used as GammelGura object. Hera are pictures from the eBay auction.

Unlike old European parlor guitars, the American ones are almost always provided with a manufacturer name. This one had a stamp "W. A. Cole, Boston" on top of the edge of the head, inside was an ink stamp "W. A. Cole, Boston, 1898 Model". After some searching on the internet, it turned out that many high-quality banjos were manufactured under the name W. A. Cole around 1890-1922, not as many guitars. But the ones that are available are nice, often with very intricate inlays in the fretboard. The guitars also have their own and lightly built variant of the X-bracing. It is an unusual guitar of good quality, here you can see a finer copy. Here you can also read more about WA Cole.

This guitar was simpler, but still with a nice rosette with several layers of herringbone strips. At the bottom there is also a beautiful center strip. As stated, the best rosewood in the bottom and side and as veneer on the top of the head. Mahogany in the neck and top in spruce, most likely Adirondack. The paint on the top is colored orange, the same color I have seen on other American parlor guitars from around 1900. I think this is made about 1905, a copy dated to 1909 had simple round dots in the fretboard. The tuning screws are beautiful and works very well. The inlays in the fretboard, on the other hand, are rather sparse and not engraved as on finer specimens. The ebony fingerboard was flat with a white celluloid strip around it.

The bridge was replaced by a larger, more modern one. The bottom had several cracks (which were difficult to see in the dark wood!). The neck had probably received a blow when the foot of the neck was cracked and the top repaired around the sound hole at the end of the fingerboard. There is a mark on the back of the neck as well, probably from the "bang"! The top had some major cracks behind the bridge. An pearl inlay at the 12th band had been removed, and a screw had been pulled into the neck foot to repair the crack. The sides had no cracks, but there was a weakening right at the edge of the kerfing on the inside on both sides. The celluloid strip around the fretboard was thin, and a few pieces were missing. Despite all the small problems and previous repairs, the condition was good after all, it was complete (except for the bridge) and all faults were fully repairable. Here are pictures before I cracked open the guitar.

I told about it to a friend who really wanted to buy it and get it renovated and so it was. From the beginning, it was only intended as a repair and a quick "flip", but the project grew and all the steps I usually use in an GammelGura were done. Since I took many pictures on the road on behalf of the buyer (except when I forgot the camera at home), there are many pictures of this renovation process.

The celluloid strip around the bottom could be loosened completely. The celluloid was still tough and flexible and had not shrunk much, very unusual! The neck came loose in two parts, no glue had been used when tightening the screw. Under the bridge, the top was very broken.

 

Nice inlays and purflings.

The braces in the bottom sat well, but only at the ends. In the middle, the glue had released. Here I did one of the two mistakes made during the renovation, the top brace was well glued, and the bottom had an unexpected run-out, so there was a crack in the bottom after I loosened the brace that did not exist before.

The braces of the top sat really well, but they were too wide and low and had been deformed. They were replaced with new, taller and narrower ones.

I found a bridge blank by the finest rosewood and a matching dark Madagascar rosewood board.

Some pictures after the repair of the top and the milling of a carbon fiber rod in the neck.

The new pyramid bridge was formed with various rasps.

Good color matching on bridge and fretboard.

Before drilling the stringpin holes, you need to measure a little.

I use a thin piece of wood to give the holes a slight slope. The underside of the bridge should follow the slightly domed top.

Before gluing the bridge, the plugs must be drilled and mounted. I used BFGGGG plugs from the E to the e string. All are end wood, B is birch, F is pine and G is spruce. In an X ribbed guitar you need treble, on a ladder braced I have no plugs on the treble unwound b and e strings. All the braces in the top had already been glued in place in my go-bar in almost the same pattern as the original.

Buttons in hard bubinga wood make the bridgeplate in spruce withstand the wear from the ball ends.

Here I glue the celluloid strip back into the sound hole. It had shrunk 1 mm in length. Nice flower!

Got some good advice from Per Marklund and took down the braces well below the X-rib junction.

A K&K mic was ordered. I drilled out the 12 mm wide hole with a step drill.

The bottom and top got cleats over the cracks.

During the bottom gluing, I made my second mistake. I heated the fridge-cold fish glue too much, so it became runny. Without seeing it, some glue ran down the side and penetrated under some caul blocks on the top side. The orange color on the top was just in the paint itself, and a few small shocks of paint got stuck in the cauls, leaving behind wood-white damage. In the future, it will be cold glue, perhaps supplemented with kitchen plastic on the edges of the top. I later saved what I could with orange stain and filled in the pits with tough 30 superglue, which was scraped flat against the rest of the top surface.

Apart from the mistake, the bottom gluing was perfect. The very narrow celluloid strip, less than 2 mm wide, actually fitted perfectly all around! It was glued back with 20 superglue. The neck foot was glued with hot hide glue, in addition, an 8 mm round rod in birch had been glued in through the entire foot with epoxy glue at the same time as the carbon fiber rod.

The dark rosewood board was filled with resins, when I was going to thin it with the rdrum sander, the resins melted and filled in two sandpaper before I was done. It took an hour to take it down 3 mm in thickness… The original fingerboard had perfectly OK placement of the frets - up to the 12th fret. After that, they were apparently applied with eye measurement, the last frets was placed 3-4 mm wrong!

Test mounting of loose fretboard. In the correct position, it was marked with a pencil from below how the fingerboard would be planed to get the right trapezoidal shape with a narrower upper part.

The fretboard got its 16 ″ radius in my new improved jig for sanding. It provides better precision, and it is easier to adjust the sanding height from above. In the last picture, the jig is ready, and the screws are cut to the right length.

The fretboard is glued with hot hide glue.

The critical neck set was then done in my neck reset gluing jig.

Before fretting, the fingerboard is ground to a small 0,15 radius in the position it is in when the strings are tuned. Among other things, I use an aluminum beam with a grounded inverted 0,15 radius as a sanding block.

The frets are mounted in my simple plank jig and a handhold fret press.

The inlays in the old fretboard are inlayed with a Dremel in the new one. I had to invent the insert at the 12th fret since the original was gone.

To crown the frets, the guitar is mounted once more in my jig with tensioned strings. The body, neck and head are then fixed with various clamps and supports so that the neck does not change its shape when the strings are loosened. Then the tops of the frets are sanded to a small relief, the tops are then rounded with a Z-file and sanded with 600 and 800 papers followed by steel wool and polishing with Autosol polishing compound. The ends of the frets are filed and rounded with special files.

 

The finished fretboard is oiled and cleaned.

Before the measurement of the saddle intonation begins, I extend the fretboard with a piece of maple. The measurement is then made with a stroboscope tuner, my special jig for adjusting the "saddle", small loose and tangless pieces of frets at the nut, new strings, feeler gauges and some tools to make adjustments to the intonation points' placement at both string ends. I also use reference strings to double-check and not be fooled by new defective strings. A boring job that takes a long time, but which is necessary.

The fretboard is cut at the point of intonation at the nut that came closest to the 1st fret.

To fit the new nut in camel bone, I use a small piece of self-adhesive sandpaper to shape the neck against the nut.

The positions of the notches in the nut are measured and marked. To easily align the measuring points, I use a long ruler between the center of the string pin hole and the marking on the nut. The lines do not become exactly 90 degrees but follow the line of the string. With a small thin saw, a saw cut is made in each notch.

The measurements from the measurement of intonation are used to mark how deep the milling should be done for all but one string (the one that came closest to the 1st band). Small brown pieces of tape mark the exact position on the nut.

The milling for intonation is done with a simple wooden jig and with the same jig that I use to mill the saddle ditch.

The measured position of the intonation points on the saddle is marked for each string. An approximately 4-4,5 mm wide inclined rectangle is marked that holds all intonation points. The rectangle is cut out to provide good contrast when the ditch is to be milled.

To make the segmented saddle, I first make a temporary saddle in spruce that fits perfectly in the saddle ditch. With a long ruler between the notch in the nut and placed in the center of the string pin hole, I mark where the string will pass the saddle. The the bass E side is marked with a dot so as not to turn it the wrong way.

A blank for the segmented saddle is sawn out of a piece of quartersawn spruce. The blank is thinned to about 5,5 mm in my drum sander.

Using the temporary saddle, I can mark the blank and saw out 5 mm wide notches centered over the position of the strings. I use my jig to saw fret grooves in fingerboards and a small jig that I attach the workpiece to and that moves the saw exactly 5 mm for the second sawing. The resulting pin in the middle can be easily broken off.

Finished pieces of 5 mm thick camel bone fit into the slots, the two outermost bone pieces are wider. The bone posts are then glued with tough 30 super glue, the fresh sanded spruce surfaces are "painted on" with thin liquid 10 superglue before they get dirty. A point extraction sucks away most of the aggressive fumes.

The blank is sanded approx. 1 mm lower on the treble side (according to the measurement saved when doing the intonation measurements) and then given the same radius as the fretboard. The depth of the saddle ditch is marked with a pencil. The height measured on the saddle at the intonation + the depth of the saddle ditch is used to cut the saddle to approximately the correct height. Later I glue a 1-1,5 mm strip in rosewood at the bottom to make the saddle stronger, then you also get another chance to adjust the height of saddle.

Final adjustment of the nut, saddle and intonation points on the saddle.

The guitar gets a round of thin spirit varnish, I use a clamp as a handle and a large round fine-haired brush. After at least one day of drying, the varnish is matted down with fine steel wool and polished back to a reasonable gloss with a linen cloth. After a month or so, you can polish again as the varnish has become harder.

By filing away as much as I dared on the side of the neck, I reduced the width of the nut to 46,5 mm. For me, the neck feels easy to play on, the few millimeters are noticeable!

How did it turn out then? Well, the answer is very good! I have a bit of a hard time with the tonality you get from X-bracing, a more fundamental and simple sound with more bass. Ladder bracing gives a different tone with a more complex and rich sound and less bass, which I always like. But this one turned out so well that I wanted to keep it. Very dynamic and powerful and perfect for strumming. This variant of X-bracing is at least as good as the one Martin came up with and which is standard nowadays. The braces that have been changed cover the surface of the top well. It was strung up with standard Newtone Masterclass 0,11 strings. It can probably handle 0,12 as well, but I'm a little afraid of unnecessarily high string tension.

I now have a better grasp of the X-bracing, I learned a lot on this project.